In August of 2012, a post appeared here titled ‘Critical Community.’ Featuring Peter Block, an emphasis was made on how the gifts that people have to offer could be recognized and accepted instead of ‘problematized,’ and seeing everyone as having a role and members of the community being “where cause resides” rather than marginalization of people’s efforts. Previous to this, Chené Swart interviewed Peter Block on the Narrative Practice Approach to Community ~ in which “a word opens a world” of alternative ways of being. A segment of this interview is shared below. As each of us are in fact co-creators and community builders wherever we live, we should take the utmost care as we enter into working with others or responding to calls to help with community organization that we are respecting and honoring those who come to contribute, and encouraging them to find their voice to become part of the bricks and blocks of collaborative thought that make up ideas for our future. To be a meaningful part of community building, the process should involve a breadth of thought that grows and respects the participants’ ideas and contributions and builds upon a body of ideas that people share openly together, rather than replacing one institution or regime with another:
“So the alternative story is always there.… Something might sound good to us, but it’s not for us to say that ‘this is it,’ …. We always ask… is this important, should we talk more about this? … But the moment we decide that this is a great alternative story, we’re colonizing…again..”
Community building is happening all the time. You are often a part of it even if you don’t realize it. Oftentimes, though, the difficulties lie in determining where to begin if you are trying to determine how to be heard, who to effectively organize with, how to make a difference, and really, where to start. If all else fails, begin with a question ~ one that you (and others) feel must be asked.
“Questions are more transformative than answers…They are the means by which we are all confronted with our freedom.” ~ Peter Block (“Community: The Structure of Belonging,” 2008)
Community building isn’t necessarily about asking the question of others who you will appeal to. Oftentimes, and critically, it begins by asking yourselves the questions for which there is no easy answer, striving together to approach the issues in ways that don’t assume everything is a problem, and then finding paths forward in response that will lead to more questions, challenges, and new ways of discussing and collaborating in ways you might not have tried before.
I encourage readers to look at the approach of ‘place-based social innovation’ that’s been explored by Unmonastery. There’s an overview of their approach here. You can read more about it at their website (mostly in Italian). If you liked that, you may also appreciate the Unsystem forum (more technical, but also focusing a lot on the intersection of social and technological innovations). Sign-in is currently accomplished through twitter or github, or alternatively, via standard e-mail integration to the forum.
If you are lost in the initial phases (discussion, planning and collaboration on what the actions should be), it may do well to step back and take a more deliberative, or dialogue-oriented approach. The NCDD (National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation) has a excellent list of resources (that I’ve used and that I recommend) for different styles of community dialogue, and the National Dialogue Network has an approach which involves the input of large numbers of people to encourage dialogue processes on various topics. For developing a unique collaboration or series of dialogues that is uniquely suited for your community, talk with others you know, examine dialogue developments that other communities have tried, and consider what will and won’t work. Knock on doors in the neighborhood. Rekindle relationships. Talk to people constantly about the issues that are of concern to you and others you’ve collaborated with. Do not rely upon political “parties” or “leaders,” rather, tap into the collective wisdom of those around you. The keys to moving forward will often come from the least expected places.
Dialogue is different from decision-making, though. This is another area in which it is easy to get stuck. By leaving decision-making to people who are traditionally understood as decision-makers, who generally are understood to be elected or appointed officials, we do ourselves a great disservice and underestimate the abilities of those in our communities. Each and every one of us are community builders. Each and every one of us are decision-makers, and we all have decisions to make.
Dialogue is good for helping us to understand each other better, refine ideas, and find thought pathways we may not have considered. Dialogue gives us information, but it isn’t a decision. With that information, take up a path less traveled by, in the words of Frost, and move forward to action and the realm of decision. Community building, at critical stages, means the people in the community take it upon themselves to make the decisions needed in order for all aspects of the community to function as they need it to. As an example, the flow of food in and through a community in various and not-always-subtle ways, is one of the aspects in which people can often begin to assert themselves and organize, while forming or expanding public space.
From field to farmers’ market, food, grown locally, is core to the ability of a community to sustain itself without harmful outside interventions or excessive dependence upon failure-prone systems.
Establishing a plan for how you can work with others to provide locally available food for your neighborhood or your community generally is probably one of the best things you can do, even if local community gardens and a well-established farmers’ market already exist. How much of your or your neighbors’ porch or yard are devoted to growing food? Is there a garden in your neighborhood or nearby it? How much does it produce, and does that take into account the number of people in the immediate area? Are there ways in which the production could be expanded, such as through non-electric hydroponic for lettuce or similar systems? Does this minimize or recycle the use of water in the growing process? Do you use composting techniques? Have you factored resiliency considerations into your food plan? Make a plan and keep asking questions and refining the process to make it work for you. Organize meetings with friends and neighbors to ensure you have enough hands and eyes on the process to both care for the plants and address issues as they arise.
If you have little or zero space, you may want to collaborate with others who also have almost zero space in which to grow – for people who have nothing more than the couple of square feet in front of their apartment door, for example, in terms of obviously available space to grow food, you will find The Urban Organic Gardener’s site to be a real eye-opener that will help you grow food fast even if you have basically no space at all.
Then there are local investment possibilities that may further liberate your community from reliance upon distant sources of food. Slow Money or similar movements may help with divestment or reinvestment processes that you have begun locally. Cryptocurrency processes and decentralization of finance as described in this blog provide an alternative vehicle for your community to organize funding to help build necessary resources for this process. Cryptocurrency is by necessity fast and global, but like any tool it can be used for good or ill, and its liberative capacity should be utilized by communities. It is the position of this blog author that rapidly expanding effects of cryptocurrency (with its attendant decentralization) and the local investment concept of the Slow Money movement mesh neatly and do not go at opposing purposes. The Slow Money process and principles state in part (and ask),
“We must learn to invest as if food, farms and fertility mattered. We must connect investors to the places where they live, creating vital relationships and new sources of capital for small food enterprises.”
“What would the world be like if we invested 50% of our assets within 50 miles of where we live?”
Whether or not it is presently possible for the Slow Money concepts above to occur in most places in the world is one question, and whether or not we would like to have more sustainable local economies and local food supplies is another. I would submit that most communities would benefit from a greater degree of assets devoted to local food production and distribution.
In the USA, look for CCOF (voluntary organic certification) certified seed on the package or online listing. This will help preserve the natural integrity of what you grow in your community. In the UK, check out Organic Growers and Farmers for additional information. Share your seed with others. Join or start a local seed bank.
Finally, growing food really is a revolutionary act ~ but if you want to step it up a notch, here are some fun resources to make life in your community just a little bit more interesting, involving – what else? guerrilla gardening. Here’s an example of guerrilla gardening from Beirut and another from Los Angeles by Ron Finley. Here’s someone who has figured out how to grow 6,000 pounds of food on 1/10th of an acre in Los Angeles. In Oakland, The Gill Tract has been established as a community farm (a thriving one!) by OccupytheFarm. It can be done ~ Get to it.
Decentralization: Techniques for Circumvention of Institutional Systems
The pervasive creep of various institutional systems of the corporation-state, which include growth of private for-profit systems and nonprofit systems, as well as significant changes in the nature and type of corporate evolution, have resulted in an expansion of the sphere of the corporation-state onion into all people’s personal and private lives beyond that which one might have already expected given the continuing leaks, reports and releases about surveillance, indefinite detention, and assassination programs. One report in particular will be covered here that should be of serious concern to communities across the world and to anyone who is reading this blog, and that is TISA, a secret law harmful to everyone across the world.
A certain text of TISA was divulged by Wikileaks on June 19, 2014, which stated in part,
“services supplied in the exercise of governmental authority” are (interpreted by the US government as) “activities conducted by a central bank or monetary authority”
We also see from the TISA text, “all payment and money transmission services” are included in the category of “Banking and other financial services” which are being made (as a result of TISA) instruments of the “exercise of governmental authority.” Gold and silver? The TISA text describes them as “other negotiable instruments and financial assets, including bullion.” This clarifies that neither website-based financial services nor “vaults” which involve bullion will be able to be kept safe from the prying hands of corporation-state actors.
TISA therefore is a secret law with global reach, developed completely outside any legislative process ~ formalized completely without representation of any kind ~ that transforms and expands the reach of the US government in particular, and other governments around the globe, by expanding the scope and extent to which any and all financial institutions, anywhere in the world, will be required to act directly as an arm of of a nation-state in circumstances where a country’s government moves to seize resources from individuals and communities wherever it is able.
Unfortunately, this is not all. Based on the FATCA timeline, the US government set June 30, 2014 as the date by which it had set its sights on anyone with an offshore account, whether or not they are personally aware that their accounts are held by offshore corporations. In tandem with the TISA as shown above, it should be obvious that not only activists across the globe, but anyone and any community which maintains an account that is held in a web based service is vulnerable to FATCA and TISA processes as the US government becomes ever more desperate.
Contrary to popular belief, this will not only affect people with very large accounts. It will be used to target anyone who has ever used a check cashing service, to intercept money orders sent from family abroad, and to remove cash from the unbanked who have in turn passed it through rechargeable or prepaid cards. In other words, even if you do not know whether or not a firm who you do business with has maintained your funds in an offshore account, FATCA and TISA put you at risk.
There are several things individuals, associations, and communities can do to protect themselves against FATCA and TISA:
Remove finances from institutions or website-based services
Ensure the decentralized system you use is anonymous or offers anonymity as a clear and simple option. (In the previous blogpost here, I identified the best candidates at the moment as bytecoin and zerocash, with relevant instructions for each. Due to the technological accomplishments realized through development of these systems, they do not rely upon [and are not constrained by] nationally defined rule sets, but rather empower individuals, associations, and communities to act on equal or greater footing than nation-state actors.)
Begin the process of exploring peer-to-peer uncensorable currency exchange (as recently launched by Mastercoin, see here and also here.) Begin testing new and soon-to-be-operating decentralized currency exchange such as that which is being tested via OpenBazaar, here.) Explore these and other fair exchanges that reduce the burdens on the users by removing institutions (governments and firms, a.k.a. the corporation-state) from the process, support exchanges that decentralize the process and place control in the hands of communities of users.
If you are still holding US dollars or another government-issued currency, close your accounts with large banks and move your funds to credit unions and smaller deposit-taking institutions with assets of less than $175 million (an exemption under FATCA). Typical FATCA exemptions are described here and more formally at a US Treasury link here. Review them all.
Check out this useful tool (USA readers) on tax exempt time bank systems ~ this also applies to time-based currencies. Here is an example of a time bank system in Canada and similar systems in the UK, which are also exempt from taxation. As this article from New Zealand points out, time banking systems in the US and UK are not taxable and are exempt. Such systems have had a strong and growing presence in Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Taiwan, Senegal, Argentina, Israel, Greece, Portugal and Spain. Barter systems, popular in the UK and elsewhere, began to be corporatized in the UK the early 1990s. Today, barter systems (formal and informal) are hugely popular, and Growers in Argentina use soybeans as part of their barter currency. Such systems are either managed through in-person networks (ledgers of trusted individuals) or through websites. Much progress will be made as these systems are decentralized further to seperate them from the compromised and highly vulnerable platforms of website-base systems.
Viable solutions which include strong anonymity are a necessary condition to departure from corporation-state systems of control over finance. Just as critical are development of peer-to-peer, decentralized alternatives to markets and alternatives to what many cryptocurrency users have come to know as exchanges.
By now you are likely asking yourself the question of who would do these kinds of things with you in order to help your larger community and keep resources in it, how you will find them, and will you have a chance at success?
Questions are empowering ~ now it’s your turn…. to create:
~ critical community ~